Octave of the Ascension
We have already seen how the Ascension of our Emmanuel won Him the empire over our understanding: it was the triumph of faith. The same mystery gave Him a second victory: the victory of love, which makes Him reign in our hearts. For eighteen hundred years, in whom have men believed, firmly and universally, except Jesus? In what have men agreed, except the dogmas of faith?What countless errors has this divine torch dispelled! What light has it given to the nations that received it! And in what darkness has it left those which rejected it after having once received it!
In like manner, no one has been loved as our Jesus has been, ever since the day of His Ascension ; no one is so loved now or ever will be, as He. But that He might thus win our love He had to leave us, just as He had to do in order to secure our faith. Let us return to our text, that we may get deeper into the beautiful mystery. ‘It is expedient for you that I go!’–(St. John, xvi. 7) Before the Ascension, the disciples were as inconstant in their love as they were in their faith. Jesus could not trust them. But no sooner had He left them, than they became warmly devoted to Him. Instead of complaining of their bereavement, they returned full of joy to Jerusalem. The thought of their master’s triumph made them forget their own loss, and they hastened, as He bade them, to the cenacle, where they were to be endued with power from on high. Watch these men during the subsequent years; examine what their conduct was from that time to the day of their death; count, if you can, their acts of devotedness in the arduous labour of preaching the Gospel; and say, if any other motive than love for their master could have enabled them to do what they did. With what cheerfulness did they drink His chalice!–(St. Matth. xx. 23) With what raptures did they hail His cross, when they saw it being prepared for themselves!
Yes, our divine King who has ascended into heaven, is loved as no other ever was or could be. Think of those millions of generous souls, who, that they might be exclusively His, have despised all earthly affections, and would know no other love than His. Every age,–even our own, in spite of all its miseries,–has produced souls of this stamp, and God alone knows how many.
Our Emmanuel has been, and to the end of time will ever be, loved on this earth. Have we not reason to say so, when we consider how many there have always been, even among the wealthiest ones of the world, who, in order that they might bear a resemblance to the Babe of Bethlehem, have given up everything they possessed? What an irresistible proof of the same truth we have in the countless sacrifices of self-love and pride, made with a view to imitate the obedience of the God-Man on earth! And what else but an ardent love of Jesus could have prompted those heroic acts of mortification and penance, whereby the sufferings of His Passion have been emulated, and, as the apostle says, filled up?–(Coloss. i. 24)
But grand as all this is, it was not enough to satisfy man’s devoted love of His absent Lord. Jesus had said: ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of your brethren, you do it to Me.’–(St. Matth. xxv. 40) Love is ever quick at catching the meaning of our Redeemer’s words. It took advantage of these, and saw in them another means for reaching Jesus,–reaching Him through the poor. And as the worst of poverties is the ignorance of divine truths, because it would make a man poor and miserable for eternity, therefore have there risen up in every age zealous apostles, who, bidding farewell to home and fatherland, have carried the light of the Gospel to them that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. They heeded not the fatigues or the perils of such a mission: what cared they for all these things, if they could but make Jesus known and honoured and loved by one poor savage or Hindoo?
But what of those other poor ones, the sick, in whom Jesus suffers? Fear not: He is too much loved to be forgotten there. Once let the Church be free enough to develop her plans of charity, and there will be an institute of relief for every class of sufferers. The poor, the sick, all will be cared for and comforted. There will be vocations to charity, to meet every want; and women, too, urged by the love of their divine Lord, will deem it an honour to be the nurses and attendants of a suffering or dying Lazarus. The world itself is in admiration at their heroism; and though it knows not the divine principle which originates these charitable institutions, yet is it obliged to acknowledge the extraordinary good they effect.
But man’s observation can only reach the exterior; the interior is the far grander reality, and it is beyond his notice. What we have said so far is, therefore, but a very feeble description of the ardour wherewith our Lord Jesus Christ has been, and still is, loved on this earth. Let us picture to ourselves the millions of Christians who have lived since the first foundation of the Church. Many, it is true, have had the misfortune to be unfaithful to the object of their existence; but what an immense number have loved Jesus with all their heart and soul and strength.
Some have never flagged in their love; others have needed a conversion from vice or tepidity, returned to Him, and slept in the kiss of peace. Count, if you can, the virtuous actions, the heroic sacrifices, of those countless devoted servants of His, who are to be arrayed before Him in the valley of Josaphat. His memory alone can hold and tell the stupendous total of what has been done. This well-nigh infinite aggregate of holy deeds and thoughts, from the seraphic ardour of the greatest saint down to the cup of cold water given in the name of the Redeemer, what is it all but the ceaseless hymn of our earth to its beloved absent One, its never-forgotten Jesus? Who is the man, how dear soever his memory may be, for whom we would be devoted, or sacrifice our interests, or lay down our lives, especially if he had been ten or twenty ages gone from us? Who is that great Dead, the sound of whose name can make the hearts of men vibrate with love, in every country, and in may generation? It is Jesus, who died, who rose again, who ascended into heaven.
But we humbly confess, O Jesus, that it was necessary for us that Thou shouldst go from us, in order that our faith might soar up to Thee in heaven, and that our hearts, being thus enlightened, might burn with Thy love. Enjoy thine Ascension, O Thou King of angels and of men! We, in our exile, will feast on the fruits of the great mystery, waiting for it to be fulfilled in ourselves. Enlighten those poor blind infidels, whose pride will not permit them to recognize Thee, notwithstanding these most evident proofs. They continue in their errors concerning Thee, though they have such superabundant testimony of Thy Divinity in the faith and love Thou hast received in every age. The homage offered Thee by the universe, represented, as it has ever been, by the chief nations of the earth and by the most virtuous and learned men of each generation, is as nought in the eyes of these unbelievers. Who are they, to be compared with such a cloud of faithful witnesses? Have mercy on them, O Lord! save them from their pride; then will they unite with us in saying: ‘It was indeed expedient for this world to lose Thy visible presence, O Jesus! for never were Thy greatness, Thy power, and Thy Divinity, so recognized and loved, as when Thou didst depart from us. Glory, then, be to the mystery of Thine Ascension, whereby, as the psalmist prophesied, Thou receivedst gifts, that Thou mightest bestow them upon men!’–(Ps. lxvii. 19)
O Christ Jesus! our God of dread majesty, and our King! at whose birth the angels and shepherds gave glory; at whose victory over the author of death all nations clapped their hands and were filled with joy; at whose ascending, with Thy trophies, into heaven, the apostles were perfected in their faith: grant that we, also, with fervent faith, may sing our canticles of praise in honour of the mysteries of our Redemption and of thine Ascension; and that, with the princes of thy people, we may, by our faithful service, be well-pleasing to the God of Abraham. Amen.
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.